Welcome to our 2nd week of celebrations for the fabulous
In this week's post, we're looking at Barefoot, Just Hanging Out, and Calamine And Christmas Cake, plus five little-known facts about Lillian. There's also another chance to win one of her books.
First up, Barefoot
Finn’s rugby career was brought to a premature end by a crunching tackle, shattering his confidence and leaving him shy and insecure about his sexuality, despite his size. But understanding how it feels to lose courage in the face of a shaky future, he volunteers at a homeless shelter.
One night he gives up his shoes to a homeless man. Of course, that’s the night he finally gets an opportunity to talk to Sam, the cute twink he’s been crushing on. Shoeless, breathless, not at his best – it’s no wonder Sam mistakes Finn for another man down on his luck.
This story originally appeared in the ‘A Taste of Honey’ anthology.
Of course, that plan only worked when CuteGuyTM was actually working. It appeared this was where my luck ran out. Today two middle-aged ladies were laughing behind the counter. I’d seen them both before, but always working with CuteGuyTM, never together.
What if he had moved on? Another store, another job, another town? All before I’d summoned up the courage to talk to him?
So caught up in the sheer panic of my thoughts, I failed to notice the lack of a beep and barely even heard the woman’s robotic voice from out of the machine.
“Unexpected item in bagging area.”
“Unexpected item in bagging area.”
Grabbing the diced veggies that I had dropped into the bag without thinking, I tried to scan them for a second time. Still there was no comforting blip of acknowledgement.
“Having trouble there?”
I glanced over my shoulder, holding up the misbehaving vegetables to explain my problem, and damn near swallowed my tongue. CuteGuyTM. There was no mistaking him, even with his hair flat and darkened to a burnt umber by some type of product, making even the colourful tips almost impossible to distinguish. And with him being a good five or six inches shorter than me, I had the perfect view as he took the item from my hands and leant across me to the scanner. I should have moved away, given him room to work, but my feet were working about as well as my tongue.
“Nope,” CuteGuyTM said, putting so much inflection into the word that the p popped audibly. “Not going to scan. I’ve told them about this in the produce department. The labels get damp in the chiller cabinet and, with all the handling, the lines of the bar code start to wear off.”
As he spoke, CuteGuyTM edged his way in between me and the till, peering at the label. I shuffled back a few steps, both to give him room to work and to admire the view. His voice was deeper than I would have expected based on the high pitch of his laughter, which I’d heard on previous occasions drifting over from the kiosk.
CuteGuyTM keyed each number of the bar code individually, and the machine beeped its appreciation of a job well done.
“Thanks.” Six months ogling the guy, and that was the best I could come up with.
“It’s my job, but you’re…” CuteGuyTM glanced up at me and, in the space of a heartbeat, his voice seemed to drop another octave, “more than welcome.”
Honeyed amber eyes darted restlessly, taking in every part of me. I started to feel warm just from the heat of them.
“Maybe I should stay here until you’re done. Just to be sure the rest of your purchases go through okay.”
“Sure.” I needed to say something that amounted to more than one-word grunts. Had to, if I ever wanted to ask him out. Which I did. Now more than ever. “You’re normally on the cigarette kiosk.”
“Yeah.” A pleased smile curled CuteGuyTM’s lips, and I caught a flash of teeth. “I’ve been picked for management training.”
Had the smile been because I noticed him on the kiosk before? Far more likely his happiness was due to the thought of his promotion. However, I could still feel his heated gaze as I stepped forward to swipe the remainder of my items.
The reflection I had seen in the window of the rival supermarket no longer amused me, and I fought the desire to finger comb my rat’s nest of hair, knowing it would only draw further attention to my bedraggled appearance. Be confident, I chided, glancing to my left where CuteGuyTM was standing. He shifted his gaze with an embarrassed smile when I caught his eye, but before that, I swear he had been staring at me quite blatantly. Hungrily, even. Now would be the perfect time to give him my number, all casual-like. Except I didn’t do casual—I exuded awkward. Besides, I didn’t know my mobile number off the top of my head and, in my hurry tonight, I’d forgotten to grab it on my way out.
I could remember my name, though. Only just, in these circumstances, but…
“My name,” I finished lamely, wishing I’d kept my mouth shut. Who introduces themselves to the checkout guy at the supermarket? No matter how you think he’s been looking at you. Idiot!
“Finn,” CuteGuyTM repeated. He tapped the name badge pinned to his shirt, which I’d completely failed to notice. In my defence the rest of him was far too distracting. “I’m Sam.”
Grinning, CuteGuyTM—Sam—looked like he was going to say something cheeky or flirtatious, and I knew I’d be expected to respond in kind. Panic swept over me and I fumbled the sausages, feeling them slip from my fingers. The milliseconds stretched out as though they were passing through black treacle, until the splat of an uncooked meat product hitting the linoleum jerked us back into real time.
“I’ll get them,” Sam offered with a wide smile, and as he squatted in front of me I could have sworn he tossed me a quick wink before dropping his gaze to search out the fallen sausages.
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Book 2 in our line-up, Just Hanging Out
“Come and honour the Oak King.”
The countdown to the company solstice picnic is one of Shawn’s favourite times of the year. The scents of sage, mint, basil, sunflower, and lavender fill the air as the workshop mixes up the final batch of Litha, their solstice soap. It’s celebration time! This year, Shawn has an extra spring in his step, and it’s all for the new buyer, Tim. Shawn’s fine having a crush on the gorgeous new straight guy. Until he isn’t.
As the clock ticks down to Picnic-Day, Shawn’s confidence and Tim’s sexuality become mired in doubt and second guesses. It’s a minefield of embarrassed glances and missed opportunities. Seems like they’ll never get together…
To cap it all, Shawn’s drawn Tim in the secret solstice gifting. What to get for the quiet man who turns Shawn’s legs to jelly and has the best underwear hanging from the washing line in his garden? And will that tempting rainbow of colour be forever seared onto Shawn’s brain?
Another day, another chance to ogle Tim as he made the short journey to work, the only time I could really, really, stare without being caught. Especially as Tim had taken to using my green pen. All. The. Bloody. Time. Sucking and chewing and generally just fellating the bloody thing.
As I waited patiently for his front door to open I studied the sky, an occasional pure white fluffy cloud drifting across clear blue skies. Perfect washing weather. I shifted my gaze to the rear of the property. Sure enough, the line was decorated in a myriad of colour. The more days that passed where that washing appeared on the line, the more I felt like those pants were waving a LGBTQ flag to my rainbow-coloured heart. And the less certain I was about Tim’s sexuality, as I’d perceived it for so long.
Two weeks of gay semaphore were doing nothing to help quell the bearded, pen sucking fantasies that had crept into my personal time of late. Maybe if I changed my routine I could try and catch Tim hanging the undies on the line, but I couldn’t keep running to the copier every few minutes to check. And knowing my luck, I’d miss the moment anyway.
Didn’t stop me wondering. Tim bringing out a basket and pegs, his back to my window, bending over to retrieve each pair from the basket on the ground before shaking out the material and hanging it carefully on the line. Maybe the grass would be damp from the morning dew and, not wanting to get the bottom of his chinos wet, he wore nothing but his shirt. Grass from the carefully cut lawn would tickle his bare feet. And every time he bent over, a flash of neon orange GAGs caught the eye of anyone watching.
“Hey. What’s so interesting?”
I jumped about twenty feet in the air at the sound of Tim’s voice. Behind me. Really close behind me. Please don’t let him come any closer. ‘Cos I was horny as hell. And it was all his fucking fault.
“Parakeets,” I croaked, unable to think of anything else. “In the tree.”
“That close? They fly away when I get near enough with a camera in my garden. Where?” And he stepped close enough that I could feel the heat of him along my back. Smell the scent of him. The soap he used. Was it one of ours? I couldn’t tell, not when it mingled with his laundry conditioner—and FYI, I still hadn’t returned his T-shirt—and something more indefinable. Maybe if I dropped to my knees and buried my face in his crotch that would…not help me at all. And it certainly wasn’t helping with my other problem.
Focus. Tim’s scent reminded me of the sea and fresh ozone-heavy air.
We should definitely make a soap of that.
I’d call it Temptation.
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Last but not least for this week, Calamine And Christmas Cake
A romantic getaway at an all-inclusive boutique hotel over Christmas seems the perfect way for Glenn Trevor to celebrate the festive period with his boyfriend.
But he could have done without waking up on the first morning delirious and covered in spots. Abandoned by his boyfriend, Glenn’s only saving grace comes in the dynamic form of Bastian, the waiter assigned to attend his every whim, and who might just be an angel in disguise.
Bastian, has only two rules: always make the guests feel as comfortable as possible—not a problem with his innate nurturing disposition—and never ever get involved with a guest. But the quarantined guy in 210 needs someone to take care of him, and Bastian’s more than up for the challenge of making Glenn Trevor’s stay the best ever, even if he has to run himself ragged to do it.
If Bastian can learn to accept the same nurturing care he hands out so readily, and Glenn can get over the farce of his previous relationship, between them maybe they can make it the Christmas of their dreams.
“If I may?” Doctor Gill reached for the edge of the duvet and at my nod folded it back to expose my chest. “Can I ask, when did you first notice the spots?”
“Spots?” I glanced down at my torso. “Jesus Christ! I didn’t—” Memories of earlier flooded my senses. Itchy hot skin, scratching at my hip, Xander screaming because…oh yeah. I wanted to check my dick but something told me it looked just as horrific as my chest, and the doctor probably wouldn’t appreciate it.
“I’m assuming you woke up like this? How have you been feeling in the last few days?”
“Tired and my throat was sore. But that’s nothing new at the end of term. The kids get more excited as Christmas approaches: Santa coming to the fair, the nativity play, Christmas party. I just end up raising my voice more and more to be heard above the din.” As if to punctuate my point the tickle in my throat turned into a full blown cough.
“He cleared me out of lime juice yesterday.” My gaze immediately shifted to the door at the sound of his voice. The waiter, and obviously the pool boy too, since I remembered drinking lime and soda from a plastic pint glass out by the pool. “I had to pop out and get a fresh bottle.”
He placed the towels and an armful of bottles on the dresser. Keeping one in his hands, he approached the bed as he twisted the cap off. He perched on the edge of the mattress and then leant over to hold the bottle to my lips. With the slightest movement of his wrist, water trickled into my mouth, easing my throat without any conscious effort from me.
“Mr Johnson,” Doctor Gill said with a hint of reproach. Since that wasn’t my surname I guessed it must be the waiter’s.
“I’ve had it before.” The waiter—because Mr Johnson just seemed too ordinary to apply to this force of nature—glared and sat back with a huff and a hint of petulance that implied he knew the doctor well.
“Sebastian.” The doctor admonished softly. “Could you allow me to do the job I trained years for before you give your armchair diagnosis? If you please.”
“Fine. But I’m right. He works with kids under ten. He had a serious thirst on yesterday. And he didn’t look like that in his trunks.” He waved a hand in my direction, then blushed furiously. He screwed the lid on tight, handed me the water, then hopped off the bed. He scooped up the towels and headed into the bathroom. “And it’s Bastian in the hotel.”
Doctor Gill sighed but when I turned to look at him his smile was fond. “Apologies. He’s been the same since he was a lad. A bundle of energy and forthright with his opinions.”
“You’re his family doctor? Sorry, you can’t answer that. But Bastian is right, I was thirsty yesterday, and I don’t think I ate much of my dinner.”
“He didn’t.” Bastian’s voice echoed from the bathroom. “Left over half of Marcel’s Spinach and Ricotta stuffed chicken and you know how good that is, doc. He ate most of his mash though.”
“Bastian was my waiter,” I said with a shrug as Doctor Gill shook his head at the empty doorway.
“I gathered. So you’re a primary school teacher? Deep breath.” He asked several more questions as he listened to my chest and took my temperature. Prodded and poked me. “Stick out your tongue. Hmm. Uh huh. Se—” he sighed. “Bastian said that you had plenty of fluid during the day yesterday. What about last night?”
“I don’t remember. It’s all a bit hazy.”
“There’s no water left in the fridge,” Bastian peered around the door jamb, “but there weren’t any bottles in the bin when I removed it. Or any empties scattered around the room. Is it possible your—” Bastian glanced at the doctor before shifting his attention back to me, “friend took them down to the gym with him this morning?”
“You’re not here alone?” Doctor Gill looked around as if expecting Xander to pop up from behind the chair.
“Not likely.” I answered Bastian’s question first. Then I took a steadying breath to stop my voice from cracking before admitting, “He’s gone.”
Bastian appeared in the doorway, back ramrod straight, his hands in fists at his sides. “He left you?” The righteous indignation in his tone gave his words an edge. “When?”
“This morning. He doesn’t do sick people.” I tried to conjure up a smile, told myself that it didn’t matter that he’d left me when I was so ill. It was hard to dredge up any good feeling towards Xander at all. I muttered under my breath, “And he’s a water thief too, apparently.”
“Bastard,” Bastian huffed under his breath. Maybe he’d reached the same conclusion about the water. Or maybe he just felt bad that I’d been abandoned. With the red streak in his hair and his fiery temperament he reminded me in that moment of a dragon. I giggled, earning myself concerned looks from both sides of me.
“Dragon.” I giggled again, until my gaze caught on amused hazel eyes and, suddenly embarrassed, I dropped my attention to the bottle in my hands.
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Five little-known facts about Lillian Francis
- I started reading romance when I snuck into my grandmother’s collection of Mills &— Oh, hang on, nope, that wasn’t me. Confession time, I’ve never picked up a Mills & Boon, or Harlequin novel in my life. In fact, I’ve never read a straight up romance without queer characters. The closest I’ve come to non-queer romance was my teen flirtation with Judith Krantz, which I consider a saga rather than a romance, and the occasional Jilly Cooper.
- My reading matter of choice before I fell into the rabbit hole that is gay romance (and fan fiction) were golden age detectives, police procedurals, and PIs (especially of the noir variety). In my teenage years when I read anything I could get my hands on I even worked my way through the library’s western section!
- I love the sea (from a beach, I have literally no sea legs, unfortunately) but you’re far more likely to see me traipsing around a castle, fort, or zoo than sunbathing. I’m lucky that in the UK we are immersed in history and have an excellent network of organisations dedicated to preserving that.
- I’m a massive comic book nerd, see me at a writer’s meet up and I’ll be the one in jeans and geeky t-shirt. My dream is to visit San Diego or New York Comic Con, but in the meantime I make do with UK based comic cons and checking out the comic book shops in every town I visit. I’d love to have one of my books turned into a manga or comic but that’s the sort of pipe dream that lies in the same box as me producing an audiobook.
- Growing up I wanted to be a marine biologist. Based on my inability to stand on a boat without feeling the need to hurl, maybe this was a good thing I followed a different path. But I can’t help but have some regrets that I didn’t fight harder to follow my dreams.
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Thanks for celebrating this fabulous author with us. Come back next week for more of Lillian's books, a personal story she's chosen to share, and another chance to win.
Until then, happy reading!